23 September 2021
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has interviewed ANC ward councillor Solly Mudau as part of an investigation into a multi-million rand Lottery grant to a centre for destitute children in Vhembe, Limpopo.
This follows reports by Limpopo Mirror and GroundUp last month that a non-profit company, Tshimbupfe Drop-in Centre, had received a total of R10 million - but members of the board knew very little about the funding.
Members of the SIU visited Tshimbupfe earlier this month to investigate the grant and interviewed several people about it.
When Mudau was initially asked about the grant, he said that the company was merely used as a facilitator for a borehole drilling and water provision project in nearby Hanani village. He asked for questions to be sent to him, but failed to answer them. No trace of such a borehole project could be found at Hanani village and the local traditional leadership were also unaware of the project.
Mudau, a ward councillor at the Collins Chabane municipality, is chairman of the centre’s board. He is also a cousin of a National Lotteries Commission (NLC) board member, Dr Muthuhadini Madzivhandila. Madzivhandila is on a shortlist of three people to become chairman of the NLC’s board.
Four weeks after the stories about the Tshimbupfe grant were published, there are still more questions than answers about what had happened to the R10 million, including what bank account the money was paid into. Although the grant was to the Tshimbupfe Drop-In Centre, according to NLC annual reports, the money never appeared in the company’s original bank account.
The NLC’s records indicate that a R4 million payment was made to the drop-in centre in 2018-19. On 25 September 2019 a further R6 million was paid, according to the NLC beneficiaries list for that year.
Soon after the story appeared, Mudau was summoned to appear before the area’s traditional council to explain how and where the money was used, but is yet to do so.
When she was contacted for comment on the initial story, the centre’s coordinator, Sylvia Mashila, denied any knowledge of the grant. But when reporters visited the village three days later, Mashila changed tack and said the grant was for another project.
The centre falls under the jurisdiction of traditional leader Chief Nkheteni Nemuvhalani. He said when the tribal council became aware of the R10 million grant channelled through the local company, Mudau was summoned to explain how the money had been used. But a few days before the councillor was supposed to appear before the council, he said he would be unable to attend as his brother had died.
The tribal council allowed him time to mourn the death of his brother, but he will be summoned again to explain the situation, Nemuvhalani said.
After the reports about the centre appeared, the SIU included the project in its investigation into fraud and corruption at the NLC, and investigators visited the area on 6 September. Captain Saul Nkosi, from the SIU, confirmed that Mudau was one of the people interviewed to try to determine how the grant money had been spent.
The SIU began investigating the NLC after a special proclamation was signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in October 2020. A task team including the SIU, the Hawks, and independent investigators appointed by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, was also set up.
Chief Nemuvhalani said the traditional council had been informed of the SIU’s visit to the area, but members had not been interviewed.
Community member Ntoleni Booi, who was very outspoken and critical about the drop-in centre, was attacked and stabbed on 22 August, a few days after the Limpopo Mirror’s story was published. Booi, who was quoted in the story, had accused the leaders of the project of using the money for their own benefit.
Booi said his assailant had attacked him from behind as he was walking home at 2am. He suffered three stab wounds in his neck and right shoulder and was taken to hospital for treatment. A suspect was arrested following the stabbing.
The NLC refused to respond to questions on the borehole project. Spokesperson Ndivhuho Mafela, issued the NLC’s now standard reply that he could not comment because of the SIU investigation.
“It is only fair that we allow the investigations to take their own course and be concluded instead of running parallel commentary,” he said.
Over the past five years the NLC has given grants amounting to tens of millions for water projects supposedly run by local non-profit companies with very little knowledge or experience of running big infrastructure projects. These include more than R50 million channelled via the Konani Pfunzo Learning Centre, a private school in rural Limpopo. According to a 2018 NLC press release, 18 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in Limpopo have been equipped with boreholes.
“A conduit relationship existed between Konani Pfunzo and the Tshikova Graduate Academy, but the direct beneficiaries were the communities for which the boreholes were created. 200 boreholes were indeed constructed for the benefit of the intended beneficiaries,” the NLC responded when an article about Konani Pfunzo appeared in the Sunday Times in January 2018.
Spreadsheets with the supposed details of the boreholes and their locations, supplied by the NLC in 2018, reflect far fewer than 200 boreholes and are riddled with duplicates. Although the NLC said that some of the boreholes were in Limpopo, no boreholes in the province were included in the spreadsheets.
Local authorities tasked with managing Limpopo’s scarce water resources do not seem to have been consulted before the start of the borehole project supposedly funded via Tshimbupfe Drop-In Centre. The project does not appear in the Integrated Development Plans of any of the Vhembe municipalities.
Matodzi Ralushai, spokesperson for the Vhembe District Municipality, said that they were not aware of any water project at Hanani village. The municipality is the only water services provider in the region. Ralushai said he was unaware of pipelines and water taps that Mudau had said would be installed as part of the project.
Any project to supply water to villages must first get approval from the local Water Services Authority, Ralushai said, and must be evaluated by municipal officials before being implemented.
George Sithole, spokesperson for the Collins Chabane municipality, said his municipality was also unaware of any water project at Hanani village. Mudau had not declared any details of his involvement in the NLC-funded R10 million project to the municipality, he said.
As well as being a ward councillor at Collins Chabane municipality, Mudau also heads up the Municipal Public Accounts Committee, which fulfils an oversight role at the municipality.
Tshifhiwa Dali, the spokesperson for the ANC in the Vhembe Region, said the organisation “takes note” of the serious allegations levelled against one of its councillors. “Our view towards corruption is clear. We are currently renewing the organization. We, however, wish to reiterate that the principle of innocent until proven guilty should be observed,” he said. “We have also noted that the matter is under investigation by the SIU and therefore we will await the outcomes of such investigations.”
More questions, asking for clarity on the R10 million Lottery project, were sent to Mudau earlier this week. When he was phoned and asked whether he had received the questions and whether he would respond, he ended the call.
Questions were also sent to NLC board member Muthuhadini Madzivhandila asking him whether he had declared his relationship to Mudau. He did not deny the direct family relationship, but said he made all the necessary declarations as required by the Lotteries Act. “The NLC is co-operating with the SIU investigation looking (into) projects funded between 1 January 2014 up to 30 November 2020. Therefore I am not at liberty to comment on projects under the scope of investigation of the SIU,” he said.
Mudau’s name still appears on the list of candidates for the 1 November local elections.